In 1453, the Islamic Ottoman Turks successfully captured Christian Constantinople (present-day Istanbul)—formerly western Europe’s main source for spices, silks, paper, porcelain, glass, and other luxury goods produced in India, China, Japan, and the spice islands (present-day Indonesia). Collectively these areas were known as the east Indies. Also, the silk road trade route was shut down by the Ottoman Turks.
The important trade routes of the silk and spices, blocked by the Ottoman Empire in 1453 (shown in red) with the fall of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire, led to the search for a sea route across the Atlantic, skirting Africa.
The Portugal’s alternate route, by sea, was now in demand. Christopher Columbus spent the better part of his adult life embracing a different navigational solution other than Portugal’s already established maritime route. The core of his idea was sailing west across the Atlantic Ocean to the east Indies would be shorter, and quicker. Moreover, knowing modern geography makes his idea a guaranteed failure. In hindsight if his idea was correct, a world of opportunity would open up not only for him but other fortune hunters. Of course, this did not happen.
By the late 13th century, the Spanish Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon had reconquer most of the Islamic Berber/Moors controlled territory. In 1479, the two kingdoms were united as a result of the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. The last Islamic kingdom, Granada, was lost in 1492. For Christian Spain, this conquest was the most important event in their history. After nearly eight centuries of fighting, the Christian Iberians finally defeated the African Islamic Berbers/Moors. On the second of January, 1492, King Ferdinand together with Queen Isabella rode into Granada victoriously. Columbus was present at that joyful event.
Believing a route sailing west across the Atlantic would be quicker and safer, Columbus devised a plan to sail west to reach the East. He estimated the earth to be a sphere approximately 63% its actual size and the distance between the Canary Islands and Japan to be about 2,300 miles. Many contemporary nautical experts disagreed, adhering to the second century BC estimate of the earth’s circumference at 25,000 miles. This made the distance between the Canary Islands and Japan about 12,200 statute miles. While experts disagreed with Columbus on matters of distance, they concurred that a westward voyage from Europe would be an uninterrupted water route.
Columbus then went to the Spanish monarchy of Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon, in 1486 but was rejected as the focus of Isabella and Ferdinand was on the Granada war with the Muslims. . He continued to lobby the royal court and soon after the Spanish army captured the last Muslim stronghold in Granada in January of 1492. Shortly after, the monarchs agreed to finance his expedition.
In August of 1492, Columbus left Spain in the Santa Maria, with the Pinta and the Niña along side. After 36 days of sailing, Columbus and several crewmen set foot on an island in the present day Bahamas, claiming it for Spain. There he encountered a timid but friendly group of natives who were open to trade with the sailors exchanging glass beads, cotton balls, parrots and spears. The Europeans also noticed bits of gold the natives wore for adornment.